Down Where It’s Wetter

A group of blue collar workers take on a dangerous job at their company’s request, only to discover an unearthly force as they deal with a nuclear countdown in an inhospitable environment. If it sounds like Aliens, it is. Partly.

Where Aliens concerned death and man’s folly in thinking he can control nature, Abyss falls on the opposite of both. It’s a film about life and rebirth, while rather than controlling the unknown, it’s about pacifying it.

Abyss pleads for thoughtfulness and reasoning

Steeped in claustrophobic, Cold War paranoia, Abyss pleads for thoughtfulness and reasoning. In trying to talk down their shipmate beginning to suffer delusions, they ask him to consider what happens when the nuclear device he plans to abscond with goes off. There’s no longer room for other thought – the nuke must go off to save themselves from an unknown threat. It was 1988. Nukes sounded like a reasonable response to someone already locked into paranoia.

The Abyss is remarkably skillful at finding tension, panic, and thrilling sequences. Countless scenes run through hallways as water spills in, which even at just a leak, at their depth, it’s potentially deadly. There’s shouting, there’s near drownings, explosions, hurricanes, and shaky undersea vessels. It’s relentless.

In-between is a broken romance between stars Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. It plays out as expected, where the two begin the film bitter and separated, but by the end, realize what they’ll lose when the other isn’t there anymore. It’s simple and predictable in a happy Hollywood way, just layered by a beautiful sci-fi element, which exists as an unexplained species that can save lives based on love alone. Corny (and thoughtful), but done with an elaborate, beautiful aesthetic, and although The Abyss remains notable as a CG-effects landmark, it’s the practical ethereal beings and miniatures that make this work.

Viewed in 2024, Abyss carries a definite, “They don’t make them like this anymore,” vibe, and when asked over the years if they agree, the cast often said the same, if not with positivity in mind; Ed Harris prefers never to speak of the production again. If nothing else, Harris and company created a unique spectacle, even if the core surface story borrows liberally from James Cameron’s other work.

Video

The best of the “Cameron Three” to hit 4K on the same date, The Abyss isn’t without problems, but it has the least visible ones from the trio. Resolution appears natural with the most minimal of halos, producing detail and texture regularly. A minimal grain structure generally holds, but it’s undoubtedly limited. Smoothness isn’t uncommon, but not severe, and smearing is rarely detectable. The worst happens in smoke or on the surface during the hurricane’s rain; those scenes degrade into murky messes. Artifacts appear around the waving lights in the Fox logo, and banding hinders the underwater miniatures.

In close, texture thrives. Considering Abyss never left DVD, it’s a significant jump, although that’s the absolute minimum expected considering the gap in formats. Medium/wide shots begin to show DNR after effects and a specific edginess shared by Cameron’s outings (Titanic included). That said, texture isn’t totally eroded. In comparison, The Abyss fares better than Titanic with fewer halos or unnaturally sharp edges.

Color grading keeps much of The Abyss in blue. Ocean waters drop an intense, rich hue. When color pops, it does so flatly, even natural. Black levels hit an impeccable depth. Pure black remains a constant, although brightness lacks the same pop. It’s rudimentary considering lights are passing through deep ocean.

Audio

It’s a great start for this Atmos mix, from the incredible space established by the score to the submarine disaster, sound flows from every speaker. Overheads see plenty of use, rears stay a near constant presence, and the center loses none of the dialog amid the chaos. Water swirls around the characters all the time, and even the smallest sound takes position, like someone fiddling with a dial or switch off to the left/right of the soundstage. A perspective from inside a dive suit brings incredible, all-channel breathing sounds.

Clanging construction equipment and hurricane winds/waves bring the earliest jolts of low-end force. It’s solid. Not the deepest bass, but bold enough to add the needed scale.

Extras

This long-awaited disc release begins with a new James Cameron interview that runs 32-minutes. A new retrospective runs 24-minutes. From there, the other bonuses come from the earlier DVD release, including the wonderful hour-long making-of, followed by an archive loaded with goodies.

The Abyss
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

The Abyss has a frantic, breathless pace that places its characters amid otherworldly and Cold War terrors.

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User Review
4 (1 vote)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 54 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:


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